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Christian living

Burdens

The Headmaster at my school chooses a theme for each school year. The theme last year was “Love never fails,” which was a great thing to keep in mind while dealing with all of the trials of trying to teach children in the classroom and remote at the same time. The point was not the achievement of technical and academic perfection, but to endeavor to receive and share the love of Christ when working with the students and with each other.

The theme this year is “Cast your cares/burdens/anxieties on the Lord, and He will support you.” I think this is especially appropriate this year. In many ways, the beginning of this year is not the seemingly impossible task we faced last year, but there are still many uncertainties that can lead to anxiety. The short-term task is not as daunting, but when looking long-term there are big questions. We must remember that the Lord knows what is going to happen, and he knows what we need. We cannot figure it all out, but he will lead us step by step. I am so blessed to be working for someone who understands these fundamental truths that are so misunderstood in most of the world today.

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Christian living

Discerning Evil

The conflicting messages we hear in the world today can be very confusing, but I found the latest (#15) episode of The C. S. Lewis Podcast, “Mere Christianity on the problem of evil,” to be helpful. Here are some notes that I made from it.

The last segment of the episode (starting 21:40) is on discerning evil, and it begins with an example from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. When the children enter Narnia, they encounter two different stories. One is that the White Witch is the rightful ruler of Narnia, and the other is that the lion Aslan is the true ruler. The story that each one believes affects how they interpret the situation and who they trust. Our culture tells us multiple stories (22:24), and very often we trust the story told by the most reliable person. C. S. Lewis tells us that Jesus Christ is that most reliable person to whom we must listen.

At 22:55 in the podcast, Professor McGrath is asked how to discern which is the most reliable story in our post-Christian culture, and he gives us these questions to answer:

  1. What is the basis for this story in history and in fact?
  2. What affect does this story have on those who believe it? Does it make the better or worse?

At 23:57 in the podcast, Professor McGrath talks about another book by Lewis, That Hideous Strength, which centers on a global research organization called N.I.C.E. – the National Institute for Coordinated Experiments. The N.I.C.E seems at first to be good, but as the story progresses it is seen to be disturbingly evil.

Professor McGrath’s mentioning of That Hideous Strength makes me think about how the evil of the N.I.C.E. is manifested. By the time we get to the last part of the book, the evil of N.I.C.E. should be very clear, but there are clues in the earlier parts that might be signs we should look for in evaluating situations in our own lives.

  1. The director of the N.I.C.E. is not who is really in charge, but is only for public-relations purposes.
  2. The real purposes and activities of the organization are hidden through deception and ambiguity.
  3. The N.I.C.E. controls the media and uses it to manipulate the public.
  4. Those who raise concerns are ridiculed and silenced.
  5. The people working for the N.I.C.E. exhibit cruelty, blind ambition, dishonesty, greed, and an elitist disdain for the common man.

When I think about these characteristics in light of Professor McGrath’s questions for evaluating the discernment of stories, I see that characteristics 1-4 obscure the basis of the story of N.I.C.E that it is working for the betterment of the human race. The N.I.C.E. justifies its deception with the idea that the public is incapable of understanding the importance of what the N.I.C.E. is doing. Characteristic #5 relates to the second question for discernment. If all of the people involved with N.I.C.E. are bad people, there is something evil at the core.

When evaluating the stories we hear today, we must ask about the basis. Is the story based on a Christian view of the world centered on the loving providence of God, or is the story based on a godless worldview ruled by arbitrary forces of nature? Is the story even open to evaluation? Can the basis be examined and discussed, or are those who question the story shamed and silenced? What does the story do to people? Are the promoters of the story honest and virtuous, or are they corrupt and deceptive? Does following the story make people better and more loving, or does it make people fearful and angry? Finally, we should each of us ask ourselves what the story we believe is doing to ourselves.

Categories
Christian living

Graduation Speeches

The speeches were exceptional at the Cistercian Class of 2021 graduation last night. You can see a recording of the ceremony on YouTube. The three co-valedictorian speeches, starting at 15:02 were quite good, focusing on themes of humility, self-knowledge, duty, and eternal life rather than worldly success. The guest speaker, acclaimed playwright and Cistercian alumnus, Will Arbury, had a very thoughtful and beautiful speech starting at 49:02 centered around this poem.

There is this cave
In the air behind my body
That nobody is going to touch:
A cloister, a silence
Closing around a blossom of fire.
When I stand upright in the wind,
My bones turn to dark emeralds.

“The Jewel” by James Wright

Will spoke about how this poem served him like a prayer after he left Cistercian and ventured out into a world that would be mostly hostile to his faith and values. He asks the question, do I give in to the world or do I resist, holding on to what I know, and close myself off from the opposition? These are the alternatives most everyone is choosing between, but Will offered a third choice – to embrace the unanswerable and be vulnerable to the mystery. The only way to endure to the end of our journey is not control, but surrender. He connects back to the first co-valedictorian speech about humility and self-knowledge by saying that if you learn to listen to yourself, you can listen to others without being threatened.

I like what Will says about listening, and I would put it in the language of not judging others because we don’t know what is going on in their hearts. Only God knows all, so only he can judge. This does not mean that we shrink back from living and speaking the truth as we know it. We can be bold, humble, loving, and forgiving at the same time. This is how Jesus was in his earthly ministry.

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Christian living Theology

Happy Ascension!

In the 21st century, the Ascension of Christ has been one of my favorite holidays. This is because on my way to the Catholic Church, not that I knew that’s where I was heading at the time, I learned the importance of the Ascension. I used to think that it was just the time where Jesus left us to fend for ourselves. Yes, he promised the Holy Spirit, who came to dwell in all of his believers on Pentecost, but still I wondered why he couldn’t have stayed with us on this Earth too.

Then I learned that the Ascension was an essential part of the process of salvation that God is accomplishing through Jesus, which started in the Incarnation, when Son of God joined himself to our human race by becoming a little baby in the womb of the blessed virgin Mary. This union between God and man in the person of Jesus continued through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus in a process to reconcile the breach between God and man that happened when Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden.

The Ascension is not the departure of Jesus from this Earth, but the elevation of humanity to God. In Jesus, a man is sitting on the throne in heaven at the right hand of God the Father, ruling the universe. Our destiny is to reign with him forever. That is an awesome thought to contemplate, and it gives a totally different meaning to our lives here on Earth. Jesus is reigning in heaven, preparing the universe to be our home forever. We can’t usually see what he is doing, but by faith we can trust him and do our part in his work. This work is not primarily about building earthly institutions, but by allowing God to transform us to be ready for this future he is creating. This article by Constance Hull is a beautiful expression of what the Ascension means for us.

Categories
Christian living Politics Scripture

Flee Like a Bird?

It is natural when we see a growing threat of evil to think that we should flee to somewhere safe. David in the Psalms is confronted with the same advice.

In the Lord I take refuge; how can you say to me, “Flee like a bird to the mountains; for behold, the wicked bend the bow, they have fitted their arrow to the string, to shoot in the dark at the upright in heart; if the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?”

Psalm 11[10]:1-3 RSV2CE

David is responding against someone who is pointing out that the righteous are being targeted by evil forces who have destroyed the foundations of the culture. Therefore, we need to find a safe place to escape and protect ourselves and our families because there is nothing else that can be done in the present situation. Doesn’t that sound like what many are saying today?

David begins by saying that it is the Lord that is his refuge and not some safe place in the mountains, so why should he flee like a frightened bird? David elaborates on this in the following verses:

The Lord is in his holy temple, the Lord’s throne is in heaven; his eyes behold, his eyelids test, the children of men. The Lord tests the righteous and the wicked, and his soul hates him that loves violence.

vv. 4-5

God is on his throne and he is aware of all that is going on. He knows the hearts that love him, and he knows all of the secret schemes of those who want to prey on his people. What is God going to do about it?

On the wicked he will rain coals of fire and brimstone; a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup. For the Lord is righteous, he loves righteous deeds; the upright shall behold his face.

vv. 6-7

Wow! People look at the political situation and think that nothing can be done, but they don’t take into account the power of God. Salvation history is not a story of the good guys being stronger than the bad guys. It is the story of God stepping in and saving the people who put their trust in him when there is no hope on earth for them to avoid destruction.

Now some people today may see God’s response in this psalm as overly severe. This is because we live in an age that wants acceptance of every point of view except for intolerance. While tolerance has a place in a society of sinners trying to live together, this state is not meant to last forever. At some point, judgment will come, and it is decisive. That is because until then, we are in a time of grace where all will be saved who respond to God’s call for salvation. It will become clear at the judgment that those who refuse God’s loving grace will deserve the punishment that they receive.

Okay then, why doesn’t God do something about this now? He is patient and delays judgment for many reasons. One reason is that God wants to give people time to repent. Many people who may be enemies of God today may convert and turn to God. Some may even become great witnesses for him like St. Paul the Apostle did.

Another reason for delay is to let the present evil come to “full flower,” so to speak. When this happens, the evil of rejecting God may be clearly seen.

What about the danger to me right now? If God is delaying judgment, shouldn’t I flee to protect myself? It is certainly possible that some people should flee persecution so that they can continue to accomplish good in the world in a place of safety. However, we shouldn’t be motivated by fear. Nothing can separate God’s people from his loving protection. Even if God lets us suffer or even die at the hands of evil doers, we can have confidence that such hardship will never reach us unless God in his loving care allows it. The truth is that hardship can be good for us, causing us to draw nearer to God as we seek his protection. Finally, Christians know that death is not the end for us, but instead is the beginning of our joyful reward in glory that will make the greatest trials of this present life seem like nothing in comparison.

Categories
Christian living Scripture

It is enough

Today I read a passage in Luke’s Gospel that was interesting in light of present circumstances. People are worried about the political future of the world, we have had a year of corona virus fears, and today I am snowed in due to winter storm Uri. Because of all of this, there is a growing number of Preppers, who are trying to be prepared for future disasters.

In Luke 21:35-38, Jesus is attempting to prep his disciples for His upcoming arrest, trial, and crucifixion. Let’s go through this passage a piece at a time.

And he said to them, “When I sent you out with no purse or bag or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “Nothing.”

Luke 21:35

Jesus begins by reminding them about when He sent His disciples out to preach, and He instructed them to not take with them any of the things one would need when traveling. They were to be completely dependent on God to meet all of their needs. This shows us that God is certainly able to meet all of our needs, but they could only count on such miraculous provision because Jesus specifically commanded them to not provide for themselves.

He said to them, “But now, let him who has a purse take it, and likewise a bag. And let him who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me, ‘And he was reckoned with transgressors’; for what is written about me has its fulfillment.”

Luke 21:36-37

Jesus is going to be treated as a criminal, and so will his followers. Jesus is telling them that they need to be prepared with provisions and means to defend themselves. While it is true that God has the power to supernaturally defend them, it is not usually His plan to do so overtly. God usually wants us to do our part, and He supports us in more of an invisible way. This behavior of God is referred to as Divine Providence. I have never seen a spectacular miracle in my life, but I have seen Divine Providence at work throughout my life, working in such a way that unbelievers might describe as “lucky.” It is certainly not because of my brilliant planning, even though I try.

These verses support the idea that Christians should make some kind of preparation for difficult times in the future. We should not presume that God will provide for our needs if we refuse to do anything ourselves.

And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough.”

Luke 21:38

When I read these words this morning, I was struck by the impossibility of the disciples knowing what was going to happen in the hours, days, and years to come, including Jesus’ crucifixion, resurrection, and the beginnings of the Church. We don’t know what to expect in our future either, and we cannot adequately prepare for it. It is easy to get obsessed or overwhelmed when contemplating these things, so we must always seek God’s direction and His help. I believe He will call each of us to be prepared in our own way, and He will use our meager preparations in his plans, often in ways we never expected.

There are preparations that we know will always be beneficial no matter what happens. Jesus says to seek first the kingdom of God, and all of the things we needed will be added (Matthew 6:33). Therefore, we should all seek God, repent of our sins, develop our prayer life, and build up the local church community.

I will close with a line from the 1970s Christian rocker Keith Green, who was a big influence on me in my early days as a Christian believer. “Just keep doing your best, and pray that it’s blessed, and Jesus takes care of the rest.”